April 23, 2009

1512 RNS News

The Adventist Review shares the following world news from Religion News Service as a service to readers. Opinions expressed in these reports do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Review or the Seventh-day Adventist Church. -- Editors

Conservatives Decry Homeland
Security `Extremism' Report

BY ADELLE M. BANKS                                                                             ©2009 Religion News Service
capConservative Christian groups blasted a new report from the Department of Homeland Security on "rightwing extremism," calling it an example of "guilt by association" for linking anti-abortion activists with hate groups. The 10-page "assessment" from the department stresses that the report is not based on specific threats.
"The DHS/Office of Intelligence and Analysis ... has no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence," the April 7 report says, "but rightwing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on their fears about several emergent issues."
The report draws parallels between the "current national climate" with the 1990s, when there was evidence of "white supremacists' longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion, interracial crimes, and same-sex marriage."
It cites the economic downturn and the election of the nation's first African-American president as potential "drivers" for recruitment by rightwing groups.
Janice Shaw Crouse, director of Concerned Women for America's Beverly LaHaye Institute, called the report alarmist. "It is the worst sort of extremism for a government agency to stir up fear against those groups who hold biblical views on social issues," Crouse said. "It is even worse to link those views with `interracial crimes.' What unconscionable guilt by association!"
In a statement released April 15, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said the assessment is one of a series that is sent to law enforcement agencies across the country. The department also issued a January 26 assessment on "leftwing extremists" that focused on potential cyber attacks. "We don't have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence," she said. "We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not--nor will we ever--monitor ideology or political beliefs."

Cuba Thwarts Visit by Liberty Panel

BY YVETTE RATTRAY                                                                                             ©2009 Baptist Press
A scheduled visit to Cuba during which a U.S. panel planned to discuss religious freedom with faith communities and government officials was canceled when the delegation's visas were withheld by the Cuban government.

Commissioners and staff of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) were planning to visit the communist country April 14-16. The Cuban government provided no explanation for its refusal to issue visas April 13 and offered no other dates for a possible visit, according to USCIRF. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, was one of the commissioners scheduled to go on the trip.

Since 2004, USCIRF has listed Cuba as one of the countries on its "watch list," which consists of countries with limited religious liberties that are capable of deteriorating into extreme conditions. Countries on the "watch list," USCIRF says, require close monitoring for violations of religious freedom.

"The commission has received reports that there are improvements in some sectors in Cuba. As with other countries, we seek to ascertain how much and where. If everything is so normal in Cuba, then the Cuban government should welcome a USCIRF visit. Not allowing USCIRF's bipartisan delegation to visit is a very disturbing sign," USCIRF chair Felice Gaer said in a written statement.

Cuba's government strictly controls religious practice on the Caribbean island, according to the commission. The regime interferes with both registered and unregistered religious bodies, USCIRF has reported.

Cuba would not have been the first country with a poor religious liberty record to be the destination of a USCIRF fact-gathering trip. Similar trips have been made by commission representatives to such countries as China, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam, Gaer said.

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Nearly Half of New Priests Were Discouraged Against Seminary

BY DANIEL BURKE                                                                                    ©2009 Religion News Service
Conversations around the kitchen table may be more responsible for the shortage of Roman Catholic priests in the U.S. than influences from American culture, a new study suggests.
Almost 45 percent of Catholic priests planning to be ordained this year said they were discouraged from considering the priesthood, according to a survey produced by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown University for the U.S. bishops.
Of those, nearly 6 in 10 said a parent or family member was the source of the discouragement. Fifty-one percent said a friend or classmate had counseled them against the priesthood, and 15 percent said a priest or other clergy had. The percentages add up to more than 100 because respondents could select more than one category.
The number of Catholic priests in the U.S. has dropped steadily since the 1970s, a worrisome trend for church leaders. In 2000, there were 45,700 priests, compared to 40,600 in 2008. The U.S. church will ordain 465 priests in 2009; 310 responded to the CARA survey.

Worldwide Church of God Changes Name

BY KEVIN ECKSTROM                                                                              ©2009 Religion News Service
The Worldwide Church of God, which re-examined and later rebuked the teachings of founder Herbert W. Armstrong after his death in 1986, has changed its name to Grace Communion International.
It's the second name change for the denomination that Armstrong founded as the Radio Church of God in 1934, and church leaders say it's a better reflection of its mainstream evangelical theology.
"We are a church that God radically transformed," said church president Joseph W. Tkach, who is a board member of the NationalAssociation of Evangelicals. "Our new name is consistent with the transformation and aptly describes what God has made of our fellowship."
Armstrong denied the Christian belief in the Trinity and took Old Testament law to heart. He urged followers to abide by ancient dietary restrictions, to observe traditional Hebrew festivals, to mark the Sabbath on Saturday, and to reject Christmas, Easter, and birthdays as pagan holidays.
The Glendora, California-based denomination says it lost half its members, 95 percent of its 1,000-person staff, millions of magazine readers, and its college in Pasadena, California, when it officially repudiated Armstrong's teachings and "prophetic speculation" in the mid 1990s.
It's not the first name change for a U.S. denomination. In 2001, the Independence, Missouri-based Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, an offshoot of Mormonism, became the Community of Christ.
Grace Communion International claims 42,000 members in 900 congregations worldwide. The 6,000-member Philadelphia Church of God remains committed to Armstrong's teachings and the distribution of his writings.